PH internet ‘no good’? Telcos, PCC react to Jack Ma

PLDT and Globe say they’re working to improve services, while the Philippine Competition Commission describes Jack Ma’s disappointing experience as a ‘wake-up call’ for the telcos

MANILA, Philippines – The country’s telecommunications giants and the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) vowed to do the best they can to improve the state of Philippine internet, after Jack Ma, the Chinese tycoon behind global tech giant Alibaba Group, shared what he thought about it.

Alibaba’s partnership with Globe Telecom Incorporated did not stop Ma from expressing his disappointment over the Philippines’ internet services. “I arrived late last night and I tried to test the speed of Philippine internet… It’s no good,” he said in a forum on Wednesday, October 25, which was also attended by Globe and PLDT Incorporated officials.

Spokespersons of PLDT and Globe acknowledged that there’s still much to be done to improve internet services in the Philippines. But they also emphasized the need for the government’s involvement to turn slow, costly internet around.

“We know there is still a lot of room for improvement insofar as internet services are concerned. However, even a man of stature like Jack Ma understands that government and private sector need to work together to improve services,” Globe senior vice president for corporate communications Yolanda Crisanto told reporters in Makati City.

This was echoed by PLDT spokesperson Ramon Isberto, who said: “We have been working very hard and investing heavily to improve the quality of our internet services. Although we still have much to do, these efforts have started to pay off.”

Last May, Akamai Technologies’ Global State of the Internet Report showed that the Philippines has the slowest average internet speed in Asia Pacific.

Its average connection speed is just 5.5 Mbps, falling short of the global average internet connection speed of 7.2 Mbps. This, however, was an improvement from previous records.

For PCC Chairman Arsenio Balisacan, Ma just expressed what Filipinos have been experiencing all this time.

“This serves as a wake-up call [for] telecom companies to deliver on their promise a year after they have acquired the frequencies,” Balisacan said in a statement on Thursday.

Internet: a public-private partnership
During the forum at De La Salle University on Wednesday, Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion called out Globe chief Ernest Cu and PLDT chief revenue officer Eric Alberto in the audience and told Ma, in jest, to “blame them.”
But Ma called for cooperation, noting that pointing fingers wouldn’t be productive. “I encourage this government, entrepreneurs, everybody, to work together to improve the speed and coverage of the internet,” the Chinese tycoon said.

According to Balisacan, the PCC believes that both industry and the government can implement ways to improve internet speeds.

“On PCC’s part, our role is to foster competition in the telecom market. This means opening up the market to more players and leveling the playing field between incumbents and entrants, between big and small players. This translates to more choices, better quality, and affordable services to consumers,” said the chairman of the PCC, a national government agency mandated to review mergers and acquisitions worth above P1 billion.

Cut red tape
Meanwhile, Globe’s Crisanto urged the government to cut red tape so the telco could speed up the implementation of its network rollout plan.

“This has been our position since the beginning. We have been calling for government support to ease permitting issues in order to build more infra like cellsites which we need,” the Globe executive said.

“We have been calling for the implementation of the National Broadband Plan to help augment the need for cellsites and fiber. The government needs to also invest in the internet superhighway,” she added.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has revived the proposal for a national broadband network, which is seen to provide at least 10-Mbps connection to all households by 2020 at a much lower cost than today’s average of P1,299 per month.

Meanwhile, PLDT’s Isberto said his firm has been working “very hard” and “investing heavily” to improve the quality of its services.

“Although we still have much to do, these efforts have started to pay off. Third party tests show our internet speeds and coverage are improving as we roll out more fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) and LTE facilities,” Isberto said.

PLDT’s network rollout and upgrade took a big bulk of its ramped-up capital expenditure program of P42.8 billion for 2016, which included the utilization of new frequencies freed up with the acquisition of the telco assets of San Miguel Corporation (SMC).
PLDT has invested around P300 billion over the past 10 years to roll out fixed and wireless network infrastructure, which now has 150,000 kilometers of fiber optic cables.

“We will continue this effort until we cover the whole country and enable Filipinos to more easily accessible, wide range of inclusive digital services like PayMaya’s mobile payments services,” Isberto added.

PLDT’s and Globe’s P69.1-billion deal to buy out SMC’s telco assets is now being reviewed by the courts. The Court of Appeals recently affirmed the validity of the deal. The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether the deal requires the PCC’s review or not.

Foreign business chambers see it as the test case for the PCC, which had said that strong public clamor for faster, cheaper internet and mobile services could be set back by a lack of competition. / Rappler.com

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